Whether it’s mockumenting suburban vampires or rebranding one of Marvel’s most popular superheroes into a total goofball, Taika Waititi’s been one of comedy’s most intrepid filmmakers for the better part of a decade now. Nothing the Kiwi comedian’s done plays with as much fire as Jojo Rabbit, though, nor has the balls to pull an empathetic Nazi satire off so incredibly well.
Waititi’s dark dramedy follows Jojo Betzler, a lonely ten-year old boy living in WWII Germany as a proud patriot of the Nazi Party. Though shirked by the other Hitler Youth boys for his soft-spoken personality, he finds comfort by talking to his imaginary projection of the Fuhrer, who patiently listens to his troubles and instills confidence in him.
In hope of eventually joining the army and making his hero proud, Jojo eagerly spreads the Nazi word around his town until he one day learns his mother is sheltering a Jewish girl in their house. As he deliberates turning her in, Jojo is forced to reevaluate his nationalistic Nazi ideologies and assess what he truly believes is right.
The absurdist Nazi wonderland of Waititi’s WWII Germany scores round after round of shamelessly ridiculous laughs, though it’s all but guaranteed some may balk at his vision for making too light of one of history’s biggest atrocities. It isn’t an unreasonable objection by any means, but it’s also where the true genius of the film can be found and appreciated.
Jojo Rabbit is colored through an impressionable child’s perception of the world, one where the Nazis’ hateful propaganda isn’t inherent, but rather learned for the young Jojo. While reveling in its delightfully silly humor, the film maintains a lively, childlike sincerity that, while asking a lot of one to empathize with a Nazi, also reminds one of the importance of engagement and conversation. Waititi’s gloriously silly rendition of Hitler packs some great gags and a really fun presence, but it’s also part of a meaningful portrait with a tricky, though no less important message that is good to be heard.
To address its more serious content, the film’s second half does simmer down from a wacky satirical comedy into more dramatic territory. Jojo Rabbit gets a little conventional from there on out, which is a little disappointing given its ballsy ambitions early on. Aside from Jojo, the film’s Nazi characters also lack the dimension needed to justify their inclusion, especially given what their muddling presence ultimately contributes throughout the narrative. Still, the film still manages to pack a mean emotional punch that rounds out Jojo’s journey with just enough hope towards its sobering reality to end on a fulfilling note.
It’s a heavy load to be carried by the film’s lead, but Roman Griffin Davis thrives in a fantastic, throbbingly innocent and vulnerable performance as Jojo. Scarlett Johansson is also excellent as Jojo’s anti-Nazi mother, Rosie. Her maternal chemistry with Davis yanks at the heartstrings more than once, and synergizing with Waititi’s snappy screenplay, graces the film with a voice that’s as effortlessly cool as it is loving and earnest. In addition to Thomasin McKenzie’s good, understated performance as Elsa, the Betzlers’ hidden houseguest, Davis jives next to anyone he’s onscreen with, and anchored by great writing and directing from Waititi, shows promise for some Oscar gold in the film’s future.
Backed by beautiful performances and a meaningful story and vision, Taika Waititi daringly strikes gold again with his satirical Nazi dramedy, Jojo Rabbit.
A fresh new face